If you live in Austin or if you just want to go to the capital of Texas and take a tour outside the city, there are amazing places to visit by road in almost every direction.
Because you live in the heart of Texas, no matter where you travel from Austin, you’ll see a variety of attractions: dry deserts, snowy mountains, lush forests and amazing cities worth visiting.
From charming little Texas towns to unique national parks and incredible city trips, here’s a list of the best road trips you can take from Austin, sorted by how long it takes to get there:
1. Wimberley Arts and Crafts Tour
45 minutes from Austin (38 miles)
Wimberly is a blacksmith, and he has some very posh shops.
The charming town of Wimberley is just outside Austin, less than an hour’s drive southwest of Austin.
Wimberley offers a relaxed and slightly retro atmosphere, full of craft shops and quirky places to have lunch. You’re guaranteed to feel away from the hustle and bustle of the Texas capital.
Famous for its crafts, you can stroll the streets of Wimberley and wander the small local shops that sell everything from unusual jewellery to paintings.
But that’s not all you can see and do here.
Near the city and on the road to San Marcos, Wimberley has a glass factory where you can watch live demonstrations of liquid glass vases and works of art and buy some luxury items to take home with you.
You can have lunch at one of the small authentic restaurants in town – we’re talking about real places like Mom and Pop-Mac and Cheese – an absolute winner when it comes to making you feel relaxed and at home.
If you’re on the outskirts of Texas Hill (see point 7 below), you can combine your stay at Wimberley with exploring a large part of this area, known for its unique blend of wine and cowboys.
2. Walk on the San Antonio river
1 hour 15 minutes from Austin (80 miles)
On the San Antonio River promenade you can choose from dozens of fantastic restaurants.
San Antonio is the nearest big city to Austin, and it takes just over an hour to get there via the I-35. With a few other cities in between, you may not understand exactly when you left Austin and moved to San Antonio. So if you’re looking for a break in a city that doesn’t take much time, San Antonio is the place for you.
If you leave late in the morning, you can make a small detour to the Salt Lick Barbecue for lunch. It’s all about money and BYOB, but the huge grill and smokers here make some of the best barbecues in the country – it’s worth stopping!
San Antonio is known for its great combination of history and culture and its food. Historically, the main attraction is the Alamo, an 18th century fortified mission. It was the scene of one of the most famous battles in American history during the Texas Revolution.
On the outskirts of San Antonio four other missions are connected by a mission road. Together with the Alamo Mission, all parts of the San Antonio Mission are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
All this and the cathedral of San Fernando date back to the first half of the 18th century. You can easily immerse yourself in the local culture for at least a whole day.
The rest of the city is ideal for walks and visits. The Pearl District is home to beautifully restored buildings with charming local shops, and Market Square is home to the largest Mexican market in the United States.
In the evening you will be spoilt for choice as you can walk along the river and choose from a number of fantastic restaurants with tables set up on the water’s edge.
3. To the Blue Bell Cooler in Brennham
1 hour 30 minutes from Austin (89 miles)
Factory Blue Bell Creameries has the artistic talent to make objects from ice baths.
It’s hard to find people who have never heard of Blue Bell Creameries – the brand has been around for over 100 years and is the second largest ice cream retailer in the United States.
Although it is a national company with offices across the country, the head office remains where it all began – in the small town of Brenham, Texas.
It takes about 90 minutes to get from Austin to Brennham at US-290 eastbound. The Blue Bell Creamery is located in a remote area of the city and is a great place to start the day (if you want to start in the morning) or later in the afternoon.
Blue Bell produces a variety of dairy products, including 66 different flavours of ice cream. Depending on the time of arrival, you can try some seasonal varieties that are not available all year round.
Besides the Blue Bell there is enough in Brennam to fill a whole day or more. Start with the Brenham Art Walk, home to the annual Texas Festival of Art and Music. There are about 20 different works of art in the city and several galleries to visit.
Dine at one of the city center’s many restaurants and cafes, stop by the Washington County Expo Center and travel through Washington County, which surrounds Brenham, to explore one of the most archetypal areas of Texas.
About 20 minutes from Brennam is the historic site in the state of Washington, Brazil. Known as the birthplace of Texas, it houses a visitor center and a museum dedicated to the history of the independent Republic of Texas, which existed from 1836 to 1846, a farm with a living history and a historic pecan tree that has existed here for over 200 years.
4. Purchase of antiques from Waco
1 hour 35 minutes from Austin (102 miles)
The magnolia market near Silos is one of Waco’s most popular attractions.
There are two good reasons to make a trip to Waco: Antiques and Dr. Pepper. This seems a very random combination, but while both seem interesting, Waco is just over 100 miles north of Austin on the I-35.
You can take the short drive to Waco or stop on the road north to Dallas and Fort Worth.
Although Waco has had antique shops for some time now, with the rise of the local couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, the city has become a Mecca for those who want to recycle old furniture, thanks to their popular TV show Fixer Upper.
Although the TV show is no longer filmed, they have created the magnolia market, famous for its two large silos. You can see an interesting range of products on the market and you can just look at the owners if you are a fan.
For lovers of soft drinks, Waco is a must for the cult city – Dr. Pepper was born here. Dr. Pepper’s headquarters is still in Waco, but you can visit the building which housed all production from 1906 to 1960.
There are three large floors full of exhibits, including classic billboards, uniquely designed bottles and cans, and much more – all of which are worth a visit, even if Dr. Pepper is a little sweet to your taste.
5. Spending a day at university
1 hour 45 minutes from Austin (106 miles)
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is worth a visit at Texas College Station.
College Station is a young and dynamic campus less than two hours east of Austin.
The city is home to the famous Texas A&M University, and more than one in two residents is a student or university employee, giving the city a unique atmosphere.
There are several parks where you can stroll around the university and its surroundings, as well as other attractions, including the American GI Museum, dedicated to the life of the soldiers, and the local wineries and breweries.
The most famous place to visit at College Station is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. As usual with previous presidents, George W. Bush established a history museum, which was opened during his term as 41st president. President of the United States.
But the museum goes much further, with exhibitions dating back to the Second World War, the Cold War and the fall of communism throughout Europe, including a piece of the Berlin Wall.
You can be photographed along the way in an oval office or in a situation room reproduced with amazing realism.
6. Climbing a rock in a nature reserve Enchanted Rock
1 hour 50 minutes from Austin (96 miles)
The footpaths of Enchanted Rock State Park offer breathtaking views.
Although we have a great idea of a route to Hill Country, including Fredericksburg a little further south than the Magic Stone (see #7 below), this stone deserves its place on our list if you’re looking for a shorter day trip on the road with a chance to see some of Texas’ beautiful scenery.
Enchanted Rock is a small park 2 hours west of Austin. Whether you take Texas Highway 71 or U.S. Highway 290, the journey takes about the same length, about 2 hours. You can also take different paths and go back to see more on your way.
When you arrive at Enchanted Rock you can walk on different paths, have a picnic and relax in nature, but the main reason for your arrival is to climb the rock itself.
It’s not as scary as it sounds – the rock is not as high, and the paths up and down are well maintained and relatively easy to move.
When you reach the top, you have a beautiful view of the entire 325-foot high pink dome. If you come during the spring holidays or at any time between spring and autumn, especially on weekends, it is a good idea to book before your arrival.
So you can be sure that you can even climb and scale in rush hour and not be disappointed after two hours of driving.
7. Texas Hill Country (and Wine Country!)
to 2 hours 30 minutes from Austin (127 miles)
Fredericksburg is in the heart of Texas Hill, which is a real cowboy area.
Republic of Moab/Shutterstock.com
The land of the Texas Hills is on your doorstep as you begin your journey from Austin, and it’s one of the best records you can find farther away from Texas’ capital city.
Texas Hill Country, which starts just outside Austin and stretches as far as Junction City, is known for two things that make it a great place: Wine and cowboys.
You may not realize that Texas is a wine mecca or that the wine grown there is surprisingly good, but that’s why it’s a secret that deserves to be revealed.
The climate and soil of this part of Texas is similar to that of parts of the Mediterranean such as Sicily or Lebanon. The dusty, rocky slopes and scorching summer temperatures make the wines intensely saturated, and there are more than 50 wineries in the area!
The town of Fredericksburg is located in the heart of the wine region and is worth a stop, either as a starting point to explore the area or for a day or two to see the town itself.
Bandera is a small town located in the hills outside San Antonio and is the self-proclaimed capital of cowboy peace. I’m sure other cities in the United States will want to challenge the name, but you’ll certainly get your dose of cowboy experience.
At a rodeo near the city we were spotted by a crowd of artists who were clearly out of town, despite our best efforts to disguise ourselves in cowboy hats bought by the locals. It really is an interesting place to learn more about Texan culture.
Don’t miss the small town of Lukkenbach by the way – time seems to have passed and you can enjoy real local cuisine with authentic local music in amazing surroundings.
8. Weekend trip to Houston
to 2 hours 30 minutes from Austin (165 miles)
Downtown Houston is an incredible place to visit and is unlike any other city in Texas.
Houston is Texas’ most densely populated city and offers a wide range of excursions. So it is ideal to leave Austin at the weekend, or to make a stopover on your way to Galveston (see point 10 below) or New Orleans (point 19).
The city is famous for its role in NASA’s space program, and the space center outside the city is the most visited attraction – it should be on your itinerary.
The city itself is home to many of the best sites and museums in the Houston Museum District, so you can easily travel between them on the road. Ask for the opening hours of each location you want to visit, as many of these locations offer free admission midweek.
If you stay a few days, the Houston CityPASS is a great way to access some of the best websites. The Space Center, the downtown aquarium and the Houston Science Museum are also included in the price.
Then you have a choice: if you have children, you can visit the Houston Children’s Museum and Houston Zoo, but if not, you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts and get a day ticket for the Kemah Walk.
9. Road to Dallas and Fort Worth
to 2 hours 50 minutes from Austin (195 miles)
The area of Dallas-Fort Worth is so busy that you can easily spend a week exploring the cities.
Dallas and Fort Worth are easy to reach from Austin, even though it takes three hours to drive to Dallas and Fort Worth before you can count all the stops along the way.
The I-35 goes all the way, and depending on your choice, the I-35W and I-35E will take you from Hillsboro to Fort Worth and Dallas respectively.
Dallas is a city that needs a little introduction – there is much to do and see, and a lot of American history.
We have a huge list of things to do and see in Dallas, but even if you don’t want to spend all your time in museums, there’s the trolley on McKinney Avenue, the music venues and restaurants of Deep Ellum and the bustling Bishop Art District to explore.
Fort Worth is right on the Strait of Dallas, and you might want to put the small town of Grape Vine in between. The vineyard is located on the outskirts of the metropolitan area, but there is a real small town and several large wineries nearby.
The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District revolves around Texas – you have classic 19th century architecture. Centuries-old, traditional shops in Texas, which form a good contrast with the hustle and bustle of Dallas.
10. Listen to the waves in Galveston
to 3 hours 30 minutes from Austin (215 miles)
Galveston is a beautiful beach with long sandy beaches.
J. Henning Buchholz/Shutterstock.com
Galveston Island is a popular place on the Gulf Coast for people living in and around Houston, and an excellent option if you are also from Austin. There are other sea destinations to consider – Mustang Island (see #11 below) is about this far away and South Padre Island (#14) is an amazing, if much longer journey.
The fastest way to get from Austin to Galveston is via Houston – take the I-10 until you’re in the middle of Houston, then take the I-45 (Gulf Freeway) south of Galveston Island.
Once there you can park and enjoy a perfect beach holiday. These are long, wide sandy beaches where you can watch the waves for hours on end, and a classic pier with attractions and grocery stores.
There are two theme parks – the Moody Gardens theme park with an aquarium and the Schlitterbahn water park next door – a great way to relax on hot summer days.
Make sure you stop at Kemah Quay, halfway between Houston and Galveston. It’s a different amusement park, but a real classic, and if you add Houston to your route (see point 8 above), the Houston CityPASS includes the entrance to Kemah Quay.
11. Contact with nature in the National Park. Mustang
3 hours 30 minutes from Austin (239 miles)
Port-Aranças is the gateway to Mustang Island State Park.
While Galveston is a bit too touristy with a full berth, cafes and restaurants and two amusement parks, Mustang Island is a seaside destination that cannot be otherwise.
Mustang Island is one of the longest barrier islands off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The fastest way to get to San Antonio is with the I-35 from Austin to Corpus Christi and then with the I-37 to the coast.
From Corpus Christi follow the signs to the sea and in a few minutes you will reach Mustang Island.
Unlike most other barrier islands you can drive all the way to Mustang Island and even get off at the other side. You must take the small ferry to Port Aranças if you want to.
The 18 mile long island has a national park and for a modest $5 you have access to miles of pristine sandy beaches with large stretches of pristine coastline that you can have all to yourself.
There are about 100 campsites in the area – some have electricity and water, others are in closer contact with nature.
If you spend a few days here, you can try the 20 mile rowing track around the island – a great way to relax and feel millions of miles away from the city.
12. Pine forests Davy croquette and national forests Angelina
4 hours from Austin (240 miles)
Boykin Springs is one of the most popular places in Angelina National Forest.
Although the hills around Austin are quite green compared to much of Texas, it’s surprising that much of the eastern state is covered with lush pine forests.
Two national forests lend themselves particularly well to a stay in these forests: the Davy Crockett National Forest, about 200 miles to the west, and the slightly smaller Angelina National Forest, about 40 miles further west.
Both forests offer kilometres of coniferous forests and forestry activities. If you want relaxing walks with the scent of a mixture of pine cones and juice, the journey to the two national forests takes less than 4 hours in one direction.
If you come for a day or a weekend, you can visit the Lake Rutcliffe Recreation Area in Davy Crockett National Forest, which has good parking and easy walking trails around the lake.
If you continue, Boykin Springs in the Angelina National Forest in the south is another interesting option. You can see the springs empty in a rocky creek, and the Sawmill Hiking Trail is the most popular trail in the park with about 8 km of relatively easy trails.
13. Spending time on the slow lane with Marshall and Jefferson
to 5 hours from Austin (352 miles)
The Jeffersonian’s historic main store cannot be overlooked with a classic blue Chevrolet pickup outside.
The cities of Marshall and Jefferson in northeast Texas are a 20-minute drive away, and these two great places can be conquered by yourself. If you’re from Austin, it makes sense to combine them in one trip.
In fact, you should include Lake Caddo in your itinerary (see #15 below), because it’s another amazing local destination, but to consider these three points, you really need a lot of time, i.e. a budget of at least 3-4 days, without a return trip.
If you want to interrupt your trip and add stops along the way, take exit I-35 on State Highway 31 at Waco (#4 above). The city of Tyler just missed the list with its amazing Pink Garden, and the Dallas metropolitan area of Fort Worth (#9) isn’t really a detour.
Marshall is the first on your path, and the locals have declared it the cultural capital of East Texas. You can visit the Harrison County Historical Museum, located in a large county courthouse downtown, or the Texas and Pacific Railway Museum to learn more about Marshall’s history as a 19th century railway junction.
The Christmas Lights Festival is one of the largest in the United States. If you’re looking for a vacation from Austin, Marshall is a great place to come.
Jefferson is known as the capital of the United States in the category Bed and Breakfast. So if you need a great place to stay, you’re spoiled for choice.
Time is running out at the entrance to the city, and you need to take the time to stroll through the historic center or take a boat trip on the great Gulf of Cyprus.
14. Driving in Port Isabelle and South Padre
to 5 hours 30 minutes from Austin (371 miles)
The beaches stretch along South Padre Island, in the southern tip of Texas.
CrackerClips Stock Media/Shutterstock.com
If Galveston (#10 above) is too touristy and Mustang Island is not far enough away, you can drive to the coast to the southern tip of Texas.
In Port Isabel you will find the last of the enclosed islands along the coast of Texas, South Padre Island.
A large part of the area is dedicated to nature conservation – the national coast of the Father Island, the National Park of the Lower Rio Grande, the National Park of Laguna Atascoza, the National Park of Las Palomas and the National Park of Boca Kica around the port of Isabel.
Port Isabelle is a beautiful city where you can spend time. During the main and spring holidays it can be very busy, but at other times you can spend time on the water and climb to the top of the Port Isabel lighthouse to enjoy a beautiful view in all directions.
You can get closer to nature on the island – especially if you go north, to the sand dunes south of the Father.
Here you will find the Sea Turtle Centre where you can swim with dolphins or just sit on a long sandy beach and watch the sunset.
15. Go to the current southern wetland near Lake Caddo.
5 hours 40 minutes from Austin (382 miles)
The cypresses and swamps of Lake Caddo are worth a long journey.
Adventure on wheels
If you thought that the nearest alligator swamps were somewhere in the south of Louisiana, you might be surprised that there is a swamp that can be reached in a day here in Texas.
Well, uh… Lake Caddo is located on the border between Texas and Louisiana, near the cities of Marshall and Jefferson, which happen to be great places to live while you are in the area (see point 13 above).
Lake Caddo is a real southern swamp, and it’s worth coming here. A large bay with cypresses flows directly into the swamp along the Caddo Lake National Park. There are countless streams and adjoining marshes, as well as large bare cypress trees growing straight out of the water.
You can even take a steamer that will take you to different parts of the lake, and you can jump into some of the small towns you reach on the way.
Even if you don’t see them, there are alligators in the swamp. Although canoes and nice boards are offered, I’m a very chic type and prefer more than a few inches between me and the water!
16. Exploration of the Chihuahuan Desert – Marfa, Alps and Fort Davis
to 6 hours 30 minutes from Austin (429 miles)
The Prada store in the middle of the desert, under Marfa, is a surreal show.
If you drive west of Austin, the landscape becomes drier and the climate drier as you approach the Chihuahua desert. This desert covers a large part of western Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of Mexico across the border.
It’s a pretty long drive from Austin – you have to take American Highway 290 to the junction with the I-10, and then drive a little over 3 hours on the highway until you pass Fort Stockton.
From there, take Route 67 south of the United States and you will reach the Alps in an hour.
Alpine, Marfa and Marathon are fascinating cities with a rich history, quirky shops and a truly relaxed atmosphere. The Prada shop in the picture above is literally on the side of the road in the middle of the desert – that’s what I mean when I say weird!
There is a lot of nature in the area – the cathedral in the glass mountains is just a few kilometers from the Alps and there are many hiking trails you can walk or drive. Don’t forget you’re in a very isolated desert – be prepared to pick up your car if you get stuck and don’t expect a camera signal outside the city.
Visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site if you are in the area. This garrison was established in 1854 and also served as an important outpost during the American Civil War and in the 1880s. Today you can see buildings built in the 19th century. The fortress was restored in the 19th century and with exhibitions and demonstrations in summer visitors can discover its historical significance.
Finally, if you’re traveling so far from Austin and have the time, you really need to expand your trip and head south through Big Bend National Park, which is a phenomenal place to spend time outdoors – see section 18 below for more information.
17. Car journey to Amarillo – Texas Panhandle
to 7 hours 30 minutes from Austin (495 miles)
The Palo Duro Canyon State Park, near Amarillo, is just one of the reasons to visit Texas Panda.
The Texas Panhandle is the northern part of the state, separated from the rest of Texas between Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Amarillo is the largest city in the region and is well worth the long journey from Austin. You will find all kinds of unusual shops and some of the most random museums you have ever visited.
The Horse Museum in the American Quarter is dedicated to the American breed of horse known for its straight-line speed sprint over a short distance, and the Museum of Travel and … a collection of old motorhomes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I warned you!
In the desert outside Amarillo you will find one of the most famous tourist attractions of the Texas Panhandle, a series of classic Cadillacs half-buried in the sand. You are actively encouraged to leave your own graffiti on top of the decades in which alumni have written their name or declared their love to their favorite football team.
To explore the local nature, visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park. These are not exactly the red rocks of Sedona, but there are some very interesting rock formations in the desert, including the lighthouse rock and hiking trails.
18. Walking in Big Bend National Park
to 7 hours 45 minutes from Austin (475 miles)
Big Bend National Park is one of the best places to explore nature in Texas.
Big Bend National Park, located on the Texas-Mexico border, is just a short drive from Austin. It takes all day if you are driving on a long road, but you can interrupt your trip and spend some time in Texas Hill Country (see point 7 above) and stop in Marfa, the city of the Alps and the city of the marathon on your way down the I-10 in the Chihuahuan desert.
Big Bend is one of the best places in the United States to explore wildlife – far enough away from any big city to never be too busy, and the combination of mountains and forests offers great hiking trails.
It can be very hot in summer, so if you come from June to September, bring plenty of water. The national park has few facilities, so it’s best to pack everything you need.
One of the fun things in the park is exploring the Rio Grande, which runs through a canyon on the southern tip. Don’t forget to bring your passport: you may need it if you want to take part in water activities, as the river is the real border between the two countries, and you can also be stopped by patrols if you are on foot.
19. Driving on the Great River Road to New Orleans, Louisiana
to 8 hours from Austin (511 miles)
It’s easy to walk around the French quarter of New Orleans for days on end…
New Orleans is a great city to visit, and it will surprise you that it is relatively easy to drive there in a day.
From Austin, take Texas Highway 71 to Columbus, and the I-10 will take you to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
If you really want to go to New Orleans, you can follow the I-10 as far as the city, but a much better idea would be to take Interstate Road and follow the southern part of the Great River Road, which crosses the Mississippi River.
This route passes through some of the most famous plantations you can visit, including the famous Humas House plantation, the Nottoway plantation and the small Oak Avenue plantation, which is a popular place to take photos while looking down the tree-lined driveway.
Once in New Orleans, park your car in a secure car park – the best way to explore the city is on foot. The concert halls in the French Quarter are unbelievable, and I advise you not to limit yourself to the halls on Bourbon Street.
The food is also excellent. The unique combination of Creole and Cajun cuisine makes exceptional dishes with thick local gumbo (a unique seafood soup) my favourite.
If you’re coming to New Orleans for a longer period of time, there’s a huge amount of work to do within minutes of the city – check out my list of the 25 best day trips you can make from New Orleans for inspiration!
20. Guadeloupe National Park and the Carlsbad Caves
to 8 hours from Austin (512 miles)
The picturesque El Capitan Peak rises above the landscape of Parque Nacional de Guadalupe.
Austin’s longest trip on our list will take you west through Texas to the border with New Mexico.
It takes a couple of hours to follow the I-10 before you head north on Route 285 to Fort Stockton. Both parks are located on both sides of the state border – Guadalupe National Park in Texas and Carlsbad Cave in New Mexico.
You can sit somewhere in between and easily get to both, so you don’t have to pack your suitcases and walk between them. However, the best way to explore the mountains of Guadalupe is on foot, and to make the most of these paths, you should spend a few days in the park with a tent.
Be careful not to get into the heat of summer, because the climate here can be very unpleasant.
The caves of Karlovy Vary are among the best cave systems in the country and you can walk through the illuminated rocks and admire the stalactites and stalagmites. Be sure to book before your trip to make sure you can get on board as you risk being turned away during rush hour, which can be frustrating due to the length of the journey from Austin.
Don’t miss the Sitting Bull Falls near Carlsbad in the Lincoln National Forest. The waterfalls and cool spring baths are ideal to avoid the midday heat and you can spend some time in the water at the foot of the waterfalls.